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Giving Definitions Superior To Use

PROCEDURE. The words for this year are _balloon_, _tiger_, _football_,
and _soldier_. Ask simply: "_What is a balloon?_" etc.

If it appears that any of the words are not familiar to the child,
substitution may be made from the following: _automobile_,
_battle-ship_, _potato_, _store_.

Make no comments on the responses until all the words have been given.
In case of silence or hesitation in answering, the question may be
repeated with a little encouragement; but supplementary questions are
never in order. Ordinarily there is no difficulty in securing a response
to the definition test of this year. The trouble comes in scoring the

SCORING. The test is passed if two of the four words are defined in
terms superior to use. "Superior to use" includes chiefly: (a)
Definitions which describe the object or tell something of its nature
(form, size, color, appearance, etc.); (b) definitions which give the
substance or the materials or parts composing it; and (c) those which
tell what class the object belongs to or what relation it bears to
other classes of objects.

It is possible to distinguish different grades of definitions in each of
the above classes. A definition by description (type _a_) may be brief
and partial, mentioning only one or two qualities or characteristics, or
it may be relatively rich and complete. Likewise with definitions of
type _b_. Classificatory definitions (type _c_) are of particularly
uneven value, the lowest order being those which subsume the object to
be defined under a remote class and give few if any characteristics to
distinguish it from other members of the same class; as, for example, "A
football is a thing you can have fun with," or, "A soldier is a person."
The best classificatory definitions are those which subsume the object
under the next higher class and give the more essential traits (perhaps
a number of them) which distinguish the object from others of the class
named; as, for example, "A tiger is a large animal like a cat; it lives
in the jungle and eats men and other animals," or, "A soldier is a man
who goes to war." These shades of distinction give interesting and
valuable clues to the maturity and richness of the apperceptive
processes, but for purposes of scoring it is necessary merely to decide
whether the definition is given in terms superior to use.

The following are samples of satisfactory definitions, those for each
word being arranged roughly in the order of their value from excellent
to barely passing:--

(a) _Balloon_

_Satisfactory._ "A balloon is a means of traveling through the
air." "It is a kind of airship, made of cloth and filled with
air so it can go up." "It is big and made of cloth. It has gas
in it and carries people up in a basket that's fastened on to
the bottom." "It is a thing you hold by a string and it goes
up." "It is like a big bag with air in it." "It is a big thing
that goes up."

_Unsatisfactory._ "To go up in the air." "What you go up in."
"When you go up." "They go up in it." "It's full of gas." "To
carry you up." "A balloon is a balloon," etc. "It is big." "They
go up," etc.

(b) _Tiger_

_Satisfactory._ "It is a wild animal of the cat family." "It is
an animal that's a cousin to the lion." "It is an animal that
lives in the jungle." "It is a wild animal." "It looks like a
big cat." "It lives in the woods and eats flesh." "Something
that eats people."

_Unsatisfactory._ "To eat you up." "To kill people." "To travel
in the circus." "What eats people." "It is a tiger," etc. "You
run from it," etc.

(c) _Football_

_Satisfactory._ "It is a leather bag filled with air and made
for kicking." "It is a ball you kick." "It is a thing you play
with." "It is made of leather and is stuffed with air." "It is a
thing you kick." "It is brown and filled with air." "It is a
thing shaped like a watermelon."

_Unsatisfactory._ "To kick." "To play with." "What they play
with." "Boys play with it." "It's filled with air." "It is a
football." "It is a basket ball." "It is round." "You kick it."

(d) _Soldier_

_Satisfactory._ "A man who goes to war." "A brave man." "A man
that walks up and down and carries a gun." "It is a man who
minds his captain and stands still and walks straight." "It is a
man who goes to war and shoots." "It is a man who stands
straight and marches."

_Unsatisfactory._ "To shoot." "To go to war." "It is a soldier."
"A soldier that marches." "He fights." "He shoots." "What
fights," etc. "When you march and shoot."

Silence accounts for only a small proportion of the failures with
children of 8, 9, and 10 years.

REMARKS. The "use definitions" sometimes given at this age are usually
of slightly better quality than those given in year V. Younger children
more often use the infinitive form, "to play with" (doll), "to drive"
(horse), "to eat on" (table), etc. Use definitions of this year more
often begin with "they," or "what"; as, "they go up in it" (balloon),
"they kick it" (football), etc.

Why, it may be asked, is the use definition regarded as inferior to the
descriptive or the classificatory definition? Is not the use to which an
object may be put the most essential thing about it, for the child at
least? Is it not more important to know that a fork is to eat with than
to be able to name the material it is made of? Is not the use primary
and does it not determine most of the physical characteristics of the

The above questions may sound reasonable, but they are based on poor
psychology. We must rest our case upon the facts. The first lesson which
the student of child psychology must learn is that it is unsafe to set
up criteria of intelligence, of maturity, or of any other mental trait
on the basis of theoretical considerations. Experiment teaches that
normal children of 5 or 6 years, also older feeble-minded persons of the
5-year intelligence level, define objects in terms of use; also that
normal children of 8 or 9 years and older feeble-minded persons of this
mental level have for the most part developed beyond the stage of use
definitions into the descriptive or classificatory stage. An ounce of
fact is worth a ton of theory.

The test has usually been located in year IX, with the requirement of
three successes out of five trials and with somewhat more rigid scoring
of the individual definitions. When only two successes are required in
four trials, and when scored leniently, the test belongs at the 8-year

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